Another Close Defeat for the Sports
...and another red card as Borough go down 3-2 at Havant and Waterlooville
Eastbourne Borough are still seeking their first National League points of the new season after a second 3-2 defeat in four days – this time at Havant and Waterlooville on Tuesday night.
And for the second time, they finished the game with ten men. Following the sending-off of Kiran Khinda-John on Saturday, which probably cost them the match against Braintree, Gavin McCallum collected two yellows – both for fairly innocuous offences – to leave his side swimming against the tide. Havant and Waterlooville have had an eventful eighteen months - surprisingly relegated at the end of 2015-16, but investing in a clutch of talented and experienced players who swept the club to immediate promotion back to National South. As such - and with only modest squad changes this summer - the Hawks are in a position to hit the ground running. When your starting strike pair is Prior and Rutherford, and then you bring on a Matt Tubbs off the bench, you have a force to be reckoned with, and Havant will surely be among the front-runners this season. Certainly this early-season contest looked to have only one winner for most of the game.
By contrast, the Sports are quite a way from being the finished product. And on the early evidence, supporters will still need a bit of patience before they see their side become contenders. Jamie Howell made one change to Saturday’s line-up, omitting Conor Henderson and recalling Jamie Taylor up front. A starting eleven that includes Taylor, Odubade, Pinney and McCallum should be worth a goal or three, and Howell’s positive, attacking philosophy is clearly unchanged as he takes this very new side forward. Just thirty seconds in, Yemi had won the first corner, cleared by the home defence.
But the Sports were a goal down in under two minutes – to a thunderous strike from Theo Widdrington, son of former manager Tommy. The 18-year-old Pompey midfielder is on loan at Havant, and he struck from 25 yards to light the fuse on a brilliant individual performance. Bailey Vose actually got both hands to the shot but could only parry it into the net.
Eastbourne responded with a Simpemba header narrowly wide from a free-kick, and Leon Redwood foraged through open space on the left but his pass forward was too long. Both full-backs, Hendon and Redwood, were pushing forward with enterprise and, while not error-free, they both amply showed why the manager has such faith in them.
It was all quite fast and furious - and decent entertainment for the 644 crowd - with a Hawks right-flank move ending in a swinging cross that Vose just touched away for a corner via his right-hand post. Then Mike Carter stopped a Redmond run at the expense of a yellow card, and, in the words of the Hawks FM commentator, "it's all kicking off - tempers are really fraying between the two teams". Well, not quite, but it was certainly a close and enjoyable contest.
But the Hawks were proving hard to hold, and although Borough fought hard and had some spells of excellent play, they conceded a second goal on 21 minutes from a direct 20-yard free-kick by Rory Williams – awarded by referee Lee Brennan for a high foot by the carded McCallum. It failed to make contact with Wes Fogden - the collision was hip to hip - but the former Albion player’s dramatic fall and roll may have played a part in Brennan’s decision. Williams expertly curled the kick left-footed over the wall and inside the right post.
For the Sports it was a setback but not a killer blow. Gavin won a dangerous free-kick out by the left corner-flag, scrambled away, and on the opposite touchline Hendon and Pinney wove a dazzling pattern and long cross, which JT headed wide of the back post. Then a brilliant left-wing passing move found Pinney, who jinkingly side-stepped two defenders but was blocked by a third as he finally got his shot away.
A freak injury to Khinda-John – crunched into pitchside hoardings by a Havant player – saw him replaced on 42 minutes by a lively Ryan Worrall, who went on to enjoy a busy second half. With Borough briefly down to ten while Kiran was being treated, however, Mr Brennan permitted Havant to continue with taking the corner, from which Widdrington headed against the bar. And right on the interval he struck another top-corner thunderbolt which Vose did really well to claw away past the post. It was an outstanding performance from Tommy’s youngster, fully meriting the Hawks Man of the Match award – which, sponsors having the only vote, actually went to Jason Prior instead.
Borough opened brightly after half-time. A booming Matt Drage free-kick came back off a shuddering Hawks crossbar, and Drage later drew a breathtaking save from keeper Ryan Young, who just pushed another dead-ball kick against the right-hand post.
But they were undermined ten minutes into the second half when former Bognor hitman Jason Prior, onside by inches, raced through a square back line and beat keeper Bailey Vose for 3-0.
It was a harsh-looking scoreline, but the match itself remained open and high-paced. After the tribulations with David Spain’s refereeing of the Braintree game, Borough might have hoped for the refereeing dice to roll their way once in a while – but the next few minutes only confirmed that they are currently coming off second best with officials. Torres exchanged lovely passes and was fouled as he scythed through the middle, but stayed on his feet and his shot missed the target, while Mr Brennan did not penalise the foul.
Then Sergio – whose buoyant, uncrushable energy is already winning over the supporters – was painfully dispossessed by what appeared a foul tackle, but as play was waved on, Simpemba seconds later caught Alfie Rutherford late: a foul, but not remotely near the red card for which the Hawks fans were howling. Mr Brennan took the middle way this time, awarding the player-coach a yellow. For a team as mild-mannered as this Borough squad to be racking up reds and yellows at this rate suggests either, that players are making naïve challenges, or that decisions are going to those who shout loudest and roll most convincingly.
Simpemba was immense at the back, Torres prompted repeatedly in midfield, and Odubade ran and ran up front. This may not be Jamie Howell’s finished product, but as a work in progress there were encouraging signs.
But although the Sports continued to look creative and purposeful, they lost McCallum ten minutes later to a stretching tackle out on the touchline, and in front of the home dug-out. As Gavin trudged disconsolately off, Nat Pinney was replaced with Charlie Harris, who looked eager and mobile in midfield.
The minutes drained away with no final product and Havant were looking comfortable – until a remarkable late flurry which, if nothing else, gave the scoreline some respectability. And in a couple of minutes the home side had gone from comfortable control to serious alarm.
In the final minute of normal time, Worrall finished off a persistent move to pull one back, and seconds later a superb Will Hendon rising drive found the top corner from 25 yards. If only one or both of those strikes had come twenty minutes earlier…
There were frantic final efforts, and equally frantic Havant attempts to stifle them, but Mr Brennan’s final whistle called the action to a close. Or almost. After the final whistle, Drage kicked the ball high over the Westleigh Park stands in frustration – and earned a yellow card for unsporting behaviour. Players are human beings, and a show of emotion – not dissent or aggression – at the end of an exhausting 90 minutes is unsurprising. But Drage was unforgiven.
Jamie had much to think on after the game, and his thoughts will appear elsewhere on the club website. But you can see his objectives, and there is time to get things right. This is a medium- and long-term building project, and Howell is an architect and not a jerry-builder.
Borough: Vose; Hendon, Khinda-John (Worrall 42), Simpemba, Redwood; McCallum, Torres, Drage; Taylor, Pinney (Harris 67), Odubade. Unused subs: Horlock, Street, Ransom
Referee: Lee Brennan Att: 644
MoM: Matt Drage – two different positions in one match, and whole-hearted in both